A few weeks after driving Nigel Mansell’s Williams FW14B and “feeling like a five year old again,” Sebastian Vettel has gotten himself behind the wheel of another historic Formula 1 machine, this time ahead of the French Grand Prix. It’s a lot older, though, and less recognizable — in part because it sucked.
My colleague Ryan wrote about this the other day but as Vettel has now driven the car and there’s some footage of it out there, we’re revisiting the subject. This was the first chassis Aston Martin ever built for grand prix racing, and it debuted 100 years ago at a race in Strasbourg, France. Dubbed the “GP,” the team had a backronym for it: “Green Pea.” Formula 1 doesn’t like anyone embedding its content, so you’ll have to follow this YouTube link for the footage.
Ryan covered the GP’s failure in his earlier story, which I’ll quote here. Aston entered two cars in the event and neither finished; even if they had, the result wasn’t likely to be impressive considering the GP had half the power of the race-winning Fiat:
The GP was honestly outmatched from conception. The car was powered by a 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine. The problem was that the regulations offered a maximum engine displacement of two liters. The Aston Martins were the only cars to take the start without a two-liter engine.
The FIAT 802 that won the 1922 French Grand Prix had an inline six-cylinder engine that produced 112 horsepower. The GP’s 1.5-liter engine could only produce 57 horsepower. The Aston Martins didn’t even make it the entire race distance. Both engines failed with [Count Louis] Zborowski retiring after the 19th lap and [Clive] Gallop retiring after the 29th lap of the 60-lap race.
Vettel took to the track in period-correct fashion — not just in terms of his dress but also with a passenger in tow. This passenger would’ve been a riding mechanic, as was mandatory in grand prix racing back then. They were in charge of hand-pumping oil and fuel, refueling the car when it came in for a pit stop and performing any necessary repairs. Motorsport Magazine has a good archived story about the history of riding mechanics, which came to an end in grand prix racing after a slew of deaths just three years after Green Pea competed.
Vettel and his co-pilot look very cramped in there, don’t they? There’s not even room for the gear lever between them, which is mounted to the right of the driver — who’s already sitting on the right side anyway. It’s practically hanging off the car.
At one point, the passenger’s hat flies away; Vettel’s remained safely secured, maybe because he wore it backwards. Aerodynamicists should look into that before the car reemerges for its 200th anniversary.
If you know anything about the four-time world champ, you know he has an affinity for tinkering and vintage engineering, particularly with motorcycles. If there was anyone right for the task, it’d be him.